Before Millennium Park, there was the Daley Plaza. Daley Plaza, the civic center of Chicago, used to be "the" public space of Chicago — in other words, the town square or the piazza. While Millennium Park has eclipsed this open space as the primary gathering place, it still has festivals, special events, markets and political gatherings. Additionally the plaza is surrounded by mix of Chicago architectural styles, in addition to the iconic Chicago Picasso sculpture.

If you stand on the south end of the plaza, you'll get a great view of the buildings we will talk about in this post. With its Grecian temple influence, the City Hall-County Building on the West side of the plaza is the oldest. Built in 1911, the building can be identified by its ornate ornamentation and giant columns. The fashion for civic center architecture across America in the early 1900s was neo-classical, and nothing but classical, meaning lots of columns, capitals and pediments like an ancient Greek temple. Go inside to see the vaulted ceiling of the lobby of the City Hall-County Building. 

City Hall

Next turn counter-clockwise and you'll see the Chicago Temple building on the south side of the plaza. It's a little confusing that this building actually doesn't look like a temple at all. It's a neo-Gothic skyscraper that houses the First United Methodist Church on the ground floor, the church offices on the second floor, and then above it, 20 stories of rented office space. On the very top is an empty spire, and just underneath it, a chapel in the Sky. This small chapel, commissioned by the Walgreens family of pharmacy fame, is viewable daily with free tours at 2pm.

Chicago Temple

Now face eastward to see the stone art deco building, with its simplified, muscular man over a non-descript dark stone that looks like a door that will never open. This is a ComEd substation, meaning that power is transformed inside here to deliver electricity to the structures we are looking at. The building extends several stories underground.

Next in our chronology is the modernist building on the north end of the plaza. By modernist, we refer to boxy buildings, generally with lots of glass and steel and no ornamentation at all. Across the way you find the next era of architecture, which is post-modern. The pale yellow building next to the Chicago Temple building was built for the Brunswick Corporation in the 1960s by Fazlur Kahn, the same architect of the Willis Tower. Today it is another government building.

Daley Plaza

Compared to modernist architecture, post-modern architecture is all over the place, so it's harder to outline a simple method of identify buildings designed in this style. Generally post-modern architecture involves a mixture of building materials rather than just glass and steel. This building looks weightless with its smooth, reinforced concrete facade, and was actually one of the first tall buildings to be built of this material. Don't its deep window sills seem like slices out of a block of cheese? I love the weightless quality of this building.    

And there you are — an introduction to looking at Chicago architectural styles.


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